I worked in a long term care facility during the COVID-19 pandemic and it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. I worked in the same building for about a year, which meant that I had a pretty good rapport with the residents as well as the families. The workers had to start wearing masks, which was difficult for the residents to understand. They were used to seeing our smiling faces, and a lot of the residents were hard of hearing and relied on reading lips. They were not able to do this with the masks, which made communicating with them difficult. Since the pandemic started in March 2021 and it was still cold outside, we did not allow any visitors. It was heartbreaking to try and explain to people with dementia why they were no longer able to see their families.
In the summer, we were able to allow socially distanced visits outside. Many of the residents forgot who their family members were since they had not seen them in so long. This was heart wrenching to watch. Family members were so excited to see their loved ones, and then they did not remember them.
The residents forgot about me, too. Since they could no longer see most of my face, they forgot who I was. They could no longer see the smile that made me, me. It was hard to watch. Most of the time, people who work in these types of facilities spend more time with the residents there than they spend with their own families at home. Even though we are technically not supposed to get attached, it is almost impossible not to get attached since we spend so much time with them.
Working in long term care during the pandemic was difficult. In addition to the emotional turmoil, we were burnt out. Personally, I was working multiple 16 hour shifts per week. The facility was more short staffed than ever. People were quitting left and right, mostly when there was a positive case of COVID. Most of the caregivers there did not want to work directly with the COVID-19 positive patients. It was a lot of work. Having to gown up and put on all of the personal protective equipment took time and energy that most of us did not have.
The last aspect of working in long term care during the pandemic was the fake news. It was incredibly difficult to listen to people say “COVID isn’t real, it’s not that big of a deal.” Here I was, holding someone’s hand as they took their last breath because of COVID, and people were saying that “the death rate isn’t as bad as they’re making it out to be.”
Working in long term care during the COVID-19 pandemic changed me as a person. It has made me more compassionate, more loving, and more empathetic. You never know when the last conversation with someone will be your last. Hug your loved ones, and please wear a mask. We can all get through this together.